Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


The Ugly Organ

Author: Eric Burnley
11/10/2003 | | | Live Show Preview
Omaha's Cursive has been through an interesting history in their 8-year lifespan: through a break up, cross-country moves, members lost, members added, a reformation, a full circle label jaunt, several records in between, and a new video, the band has been through more than most bands ever experience. Their latest record, The Ugly Organ , has been out for several months now, and has garnered them quite a bit more attention. It's been questioned whether or not the title has anything to do with Tim Kasher's unfortunate lung collapse before the record's completion, but those questions have been refuted by the band as merely an unhappy coincidence. Rather the lyrical focus appears to center on things less literal. Organ tones ring throughout the entire record, making the 'organ' reference that much more ingrained and multi-layered. The record is described in the band's bio (on their website ) as "somewhere between a calmly calculated conceptual album and a tongue in cheek conceptual satire," and further as "an operetta of sexual and emotional confusion and conflict set to a musical backdrop that mirrors and expresses the entire range of emotions involved." Knowing I could not conceivably convey the concept of the record any better than this, I choose to simply let their description stand. A truly wonderful, distinct, vibrant addition to their discography.

I had the opportunity to talk a bit with bassist Matt Maginn outside a show at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, MO. Thanks to Matt for his time and patience. Thanks also to Amanda Pitts at Nasty Little Man for setting this up.

Note: I've transcribed exactly what was on tape, including all our broken sentences, slang, and stutters. So it may read a bit weird.
e= me, m= Matt

eAs far as the new album goes, do you guys have any favorites, things that came out better than you expected?

mYeah, I would say like- you mean like sort of surprises, like that things going in we didn't think that-


mYeah, like Driftwood - was actually one that we had pegged as one that may not make the record. But once the recording was done and everything was completed with it, we were really happy with it- excited; sort of re-invigorated us for the song itself. Because we had played all the songs quite a bit, practiced them quite a lot. We'd written them over a period of time and it was just sort of a surprise 'cuz we had planned on possibly dropping it from the record. And I think maybe Butcher the Song was a surprise- sort of. But that was probably only because we had - it was one of the two songs we had been playing the longest. So we had, you know, become a bit tired of it. But now, uh - with the recording done and sort of hearing the completion of all of the different ideas we had for it, it really brought it to a different level for us; like we really enjoy it now, and it sort of made a new song out of what we had started with. Which was good (laughs).

eYeah, along the same lines: how much experimentation did you guys get to do in the studio? Was there like a detailed plan going in or did you just kind of get in there and things kept rolling, or-?

mWe kind of stick with our usual scenario, which is that the songs are pretty much well-written by the time we get in there. But there's- maybe this last time was the most we'd been able to experiment with different drum sounds and different percussion and some more bizarre background instrumentation- uh, overdubs that weren't there during the writing process but were definitely decided on to be added during recording.

eHow did you guys do the outdoor sounds, like with the cicadas and stuff like that- is there any story behind that?

m(laughs) No, it's actually, uh- (laughs) ridiculously simple. Because we thought about it as an afterthought of the recording process so we added it in mastering.

eOh, yeah? (A train horn sounds in the background.)

mSo it literally came from those studio discs that you use that are- you know…

eSound effects discs…

mRight, yeah, that are sort of property-free or whatever. You're talking about like the walking, and the shuffling of the feet…

eYeah. And the cicadas…


eAs far as the different arrangements go, how has it been converting the studio sound into a live setting?

mIt's been okay. We added drum triggers for the drums as a result, and Tim's (Kasher , lead vocalist) little keyboard that he plays now are both direct results of trying to take that studio sound and be able to recreate it live. And in most of the songs it's worked out. To be honest, the hardest one- the hardest song on the record that we've had trouble performing live would be Bloody Murderer . And that's - which is funny, because we had played it live beforehand. But we did some things we really liked with it percussion-wise, and really if we had two more members we could do it live no problem. But rather than add two people for one song… (laughs) But that'd be the only one that we really haven't been able to achieve a live version of.

eDo you guys find that- I mean, do you like to, even though it's been recorded and the audience may be ready to perceive it in a certain way, do you like to take a song and still manipulate it live?

mYeah, we do. And for- like Bloody Murderer for example, it either works or it doesn't, you know? We definitely do that frequently with older songs. We've done that with a couple songs off of Domestica and a couple songs off of the first record. And I think even live we do play some of these Ugly Organ songs a little different, you know. Nothing major, not total rewrites like we've done with some of the Domestica stuff.

eAnd you also kind of had to go in and add stuff for Gretta (Cohn , the band's cellist)?

mYeah, true. All the live stuff from the past now has cello on it. She plays on everything we play on. That's true, that's a big difference.

eHave you caught any flak from the hardcore camps or from other bands or anything about having a cellist? Because you know, that's just CRAZY (ed: that last part was sarcasm).

mNo, not at all. I think it's bizarre enough that people just don't know what to say about it. I think they're kind of like "OH." Because we were- I think we've always been sort of perceived as just an indie band - like, whatever the hell that means, because every band that's independent is technically an indie band. So there wasn't a lot of the pressures of the hardcore ideals- and even then, there's a lot of hardcore bands that incorporate some pretty wild instrumentation that- I don't think they get too much flak either. But yeah, we haven't got any trouble (laughs). Which is good.

eHas her new member hazing subsided so far?

m(laughs) Yeah, we were very welcoming for the new member. You know, I never understood the new member hazing because- you want them to stay in your band, what're you trying to get them to quit?

eThat's a big relocation for her, too?

mYeah, she came all the way from Brooklyn to Omaha.

eIs she a Corn Huskers fan?

mNo, I don't think so.

eAre any of you guys Corn Huskers fans?

mUh, maybe like half of us. I personally- I kind of am, but not at the same time. I think- well, I would say not I guess. I don't really care. (laughs) I was trying to think if I cared every time they won or lost and I don't, so... Hopefully this doesn't get printed in Nebraska.

eWell, it's online.

mYeah. (laughs) Well, screw it.

eBut you don't have computers in Nebraska, do you?

mOh, they'll find me, I'll get shit for this one. But that's okay.

eWhat about musical background? Any of you guys have schooling (in music)?

mGretta was, I think, classically trained- sort of? But not very- like, she's not your typical classically trained, so I don't think it really was, it was a little more open than that. We all had some sort of training for about a year, and then we kind of just branched out on our own and learned from there. I think that's the most any of us has had, is about a year of training. So we didn't even make it into theory. But it's stuff you figure out over the years.

eWas it like college, you mean or-?

mOh, just through independent teaching.

eHow're things going with Bright Eyes ?

mUh, good I think. He's kind of laying low right now. Probably hoping- he was thinking about writing a new record this fall, I think he maybe had written a lot of it and recorded a record this fall, but I'm thinking he's not going to now? Or waiting for something else, or for later. I think he's trying to take a break, he's been really busy, so he's trying to just chill out.

eWhat about reading? Have you been reading anything recently?

mUh, what did I read recently- I read a depressing book about the industry called uh- oh, man. I just finished it. I'll have to come back to that one, I can't remember. But other than that, my problem right now is- well, my whole life, in touring, has been that I can't read in the van because it makes me carsick. And that's the old school time to read a book, like you couldn't get more perfect, and every time I try, I end up feeling sick. God, I wish I could remember the name of the book- it's fantastic. It tells you about just how fucked up everything is in the music industry basically. Um- oh, well. We'll have to come back to that one.

eYou have any favorite authors?

mUm... Let me think. Not a ton. That's like my favorite cds, I'll have to come back to that. (laughs)

eHow was working on the video?

mUh, it was pretty easy for us, we really didn't have to do anything. We left it up to our friend Travis (Dopp) ; he handled all of the work because we were on tour- we needed to get it done, or we wanted to get it done. So he handled it all in Marshall, Michigan while we were on tour and put it all together. We- obviously we gave him some ideas with the direction and what the idea would be, and then he did all the editing and everything on his own. Which, we were very happy and thankful for him to do it, and we - ideally, we would like to be more hands-on and be there. And I think we will be in the future, it was just at a time when we were so busy we couldn't even think about it. But we're hoping to do another one with- possibly with him again. He's also in Small Brown Bike , I don't know if you're familiar with those guys at all. But he's- I think ours is his first video. He's just so new. He's had some schooling and a lot of passion for it so we were happy to work with him.

eSo you guys are going to Japan soon?

mYeah, we leave on the 25th (of October) I think. We'll be playing with Eastern Youth who we're playing with tonight (in St. Louis).

eYeah, how did that split (with Eastern Youth , called 8 Teeth to Eat You ) get received over there?

mUh, I don't know for sure. I think it did okay- mainly because of them ( Eastern Youth ). Our record just came out there on another label called Side Out Records in Japan, and that came out like September 7th or something I think?

eOh, so that's pretty fresh there.

mYeah, so it's new. Lots of imports, but sort of new.

eWhat's your favorite part of touring?

mHm. Favorite part of touring. (laughs) That's a great question. I think it's- well, playing is one of the top. But then communally I would say it's the times when everyone has enough time to hang out and really enjoy each others' company, I guess. Which doesn't happen as much as you would hope, I guess? Because you're usually running around and someone's gotta do one thing of the other, and it usually happens about 4:00 in the morning. (laughs)

eAny favorite shows that stick out in your mind or places?

mUh- Orlando, at The Social is always fun. Good crowd and really great people down there. We have a good time at The Bowery Ballroom in New York. They're really nice and down to earth, and it's a good place. Ummm... Oh, Chicago's always been good; sort of a second home, really. They just have always been really- really fun there. Lots of good friends up there.

eAre you guys going to do anything like record live- maybe release another Maiden Japan , or Unleashed in the East (ed: when they go to Japan)?

m(laughs) Uh, I don't think so. We're just working on another- our goal right now time-wise is to get another record done. Well, written first of all. We're gonna do a Smiths cover for a Smiths comp.

eOh, that's cool.

mIt's in the UK, but I think it'll be released over here. Should be fun.

eDo you know what song yet?

mNo, we don't know what song yet actually. We had thought we had decided on Girl Afraid , and now we're thinking maybe something else. It's a good question. (laughs) One that's perplexed us.

(ed: The rest is afterward, talking more about the book he had mentioned.)

mIt was really cool- it talked about just how corrupt everything is. Like, even like mafia involvement in radio station airplay and stuff like that. Oh, Hit Men is what it's called. Which is-slightly clever.

eAaaaah. And music men...


eDoes it go into B.I.G. ?

mNo, it doesn't go that far unfortunately- which is pretty good, though, I kind of like that they focus on the average industry type rather than the media attention surrounding that stuff like the Biggie and West coast stuff. Yeah, they name all of big players that are still around- like lots of these big industry guys are still running labels.

eIt's good for business!

mYeah, yeah, yeah! Probably not cuz it's all-

(ed: their van alarm goes off)

girl walking by on phone Was that me? Did I do that?

m(laughs) You must've been yelling loud. I'm just kidding.

girl Okay. (laughs) Holy shit!

mThat's what you get for trying to jimmy the lock!
The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

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